Margaret Thatcher – a good body to bury bad news under

Margaret Thatcher ran this country for 11 years (1979–1990). I was 17 when she came into power and 28 by the time she left. In my childhood governments came and went every few years, swinging between Labour and Conservative. I cannot express the pall over this country during the interminable Thatcher reign. It was like when you were a kid and you knew something had gone terribly wrong, and you had no power to do anything about it, just watch the car crash of it all  in slow motion.

here i am reading in the bath – while utterly doomed (probably taken by Hazel McQueen)

I have actually met someone who was part of the 80’s “boom” – he worked in the City and made money. It is perhaps telling that when we watched Slumdog Millionaire together he was visibly shaken and upset – somehow he had managed to make it to mid adulthood without seeing anything remotely disturbing.

I digress. Although the UK never did consumerism quite the same way the US did, my parents were both working class kids who did well at school and my dad did some engineering training, and they both worked in offices. They met, married, and bought a semi detached home. My mum gave up work and had babies and we had new and quite nice furniture. My mum left my dad around ’71 when I was nineish and we left for Scotland and a life of fairly seriously penury. Although my mum worked she didn’t make much money and we often ate rather badly. When I left school jobs were scarce and Thatcher had just come into power. Higher Education was free, and if you were from a sufficiently poor background you got a full grant. I literally went to art school because there was nothing else to do. It was probably one of the least worst things I could have done at the time, although unlike my then boyfriend, who came from a very different background to me, and went off to work for the Guardian, I never had any expectations of getting any work on the back of my degree. Which was probably just as well because although I did hooch up a career out of it, it took a while. I finished art school in the mid 80’s and went back to Scotland, and onto my second government work programme. (The first had the dismal advertising of a badge that declared “Youth Opportunities Programme – It’s Going To Work!”) (it wasn’t, and it didn’t).

Then I did something fairly sensible – a teaching certificate. And I volunteered to teach at the art school for free to get my hours. I got the gig, and was subsequently given more hours and pay, which was awesome. But I knew I wouldn’t get more work there, and there were only four art schools in Scotland, so I left for London where there were and are hundreds of art courses. Only I went via Australia, which I didn’t really have the money for, so when I got back I had to get out of debt, and I made props for a living, mostly for West End theatre.

When Tony Blair got in in ’94 I was part the way through the MA which was to get me started on my teaching career. Like today, amid glee all around, I was non plussed. When Blair got in he literally stepped over the corpse of John Smith, who was a man I had some faith in. While Labour being in power gave me that felt sense of a lift from the grey defeatism of Thatcherism and it’s petering out under Major, I was never a fan of Blair. “Whoever you vote for the government always gets in” was never truer. And today I know people on the left are celebrating, but really celebrating what? The woman was unable to influence policy for years due to her deteriorating brain function, and not only that, her death and probable near “state” funeral might give rise to a surge in love of all things conservative.  I don’t want to be too much of a doomy gloomy, but really, the next few weeks will be murder in broadcasting and newsprint – neither of which I have direct contact with, but facebook and twitter had the story immediately, of course, and the hysteria either way won’t die down until well after the funeral. Spin doctor, Jo Moor said that 9/11 was a “Good day to bury bad news” and I think the extraordinary suffering caused by the recent cuts to benefits and the health service and legal representation (goodbye Legal Aid) which would have been the top stories for weeks to come will now be buried by ‘reaction pieces’ to the life, death, and funeral of Margaret Thatcher.


16 thoughts on “Margaret Thatcher – a good body to bury bad news under

  1. Thanks for this. I like how you were able to give a perspective to the news of Margaret Thatcher, her life and death, that will be sorely lacking in anything else offered by the usual print media.

    1. Indeed! I will be avoiding what ‘news’ I can.

      Thanks for your kind words – I am glad what I have written can give you a glimpse into a different perspective to what mainstream media is bound to say.

  2. I was 12 yrs old when Thatcher’s government came to power and I too, even at that tender age, felt a heavy sense of doom like a black thunder cloud on a rainy day! It was awful. I knew it was a bad result. My parents and grandparents were politically aware and had strong opinions so I understood the implications. We are all still suffering the effects of the Thatcherite policies. Selling off the council houses in my opinion was one of the worst policies, along with the poll tax. It has left it’s legacy. Affordable housing is at an all-time low, ex council properties are being rented out for exorbitant amounts. The reason for building council housing in the first place was to ensure affordable housing for all. I hate was has been done to my country. Politicians do not always do things for the good of the country, only for the good of themselves. They allow their pride to be master and forget that they are our public servants. And yes, Dame Thatcher’s demise has taken everyone’s focus off the Government’s unfair policies just like when Aragon took Sauron’s eye off Frodo and Sam, although he did it for a good reason! the Tories must be thanking their lucky stars for this one! Thanks for your article Elaine, I really enjoyed it.

    1. Thanks for your comment! I think that even at 17 if it had been an ‘ordinary’ change of government I might not have noticed. Of course, the council house sell off money went to central govt and not back into housing or even local govt, so now we have this business of the bedroom tax, and even if people are under occupying and willing to go into smaller properties there is nowhere for them to go! Ridiculous.

  3. This photograph of you is one of the best things in the entire world. Look at cutting-edge you! I am not at all surprised by this. You’re still just as cutting-edge now.

    Margaret Thatcher was before I started paying attention to the world around me. I know nothing about her. I know. I had a terribly insulated child/teenagehood. That’s what happens when you grow up in a teeny small town. Mostly all I remember is that I was impressed other countries let women run them. (I’m STILL impressed by that, sadly enough, and now I am well on my way to middle-agedness.)

    1. There are a fair amount of photos of me with that hairdo – i had it for a couple of years interspersed with a bright orange flat top based on Annie Lennox’s short bright orange do.

      You didn’t have to know about politics to know she was in power, mind you, she certainly politicized a generation.

      It’s annoying that it should be impressive that a woman was in charge. One interviewer yesterday apparently asked someone or other if she was a feminist, and when told “no” then asked ah, but was she feminine? Which just goes to show the continued poor grasp of what feminism and femininity actually mean. As words. UHG!

  4. Even though I was no fan of the lady, I find the celebrations distasteful and just as unpleasant as the glowing tributes. One of the most interesting things I’ve seen today was a piece by a left-wing green activist, not someone you’d peg as a Thatcher-fan, pointing out that she was one of the most scientifically aware politicians going around (not surprising, given her chemistry degree) and was an early acknowledger of the need for action on climate change, which I didn’t know. I liked that writer a lot, going against the grain of the left/right commentary divide. I wish more commentators would think for themselves rather than just going with the flow.

  5. I am not a tory, never was and never wil be; you know that.

    On the other hand I know that – while she made mistakes – she did do this country a fair amount of good (banning CFCs for instance).

    Love her, hate her, have no real feelings either way… she was hardly Rose West or the antichrist (one of my FB followers actually believes that she was the antichrist – I swiftly got rid of that nutter, I can tell you). No death is to be celebrated in the way that Thatcher’s passing is being celebrated. What next – street parties?

    1. I believe there were and will be street parties. And I might have gone to them if she’d died in power, but she didn’t and it seems meaningless and a bit heartless to me. Sure, she did bad things, but like you say, she had an eye on the sciency side of things.

      The thing, or one of the things, for me, is that while the previous decade or so were spent swinging from left to right neither of them had a proper grip on things. The Labour party, to survive, had to modernize. Yet when they did so they moved towards the right, and I expect you remember, as I do, the effort to get people off Incapacity Benefit trumpeted all over the media a few christmases ago (ruined mine, I can tell you) so although this is certainly worse, it’s not in comparison to some dream team. I have only ever voted Labour or Green (for local stuff, and for second choice) but this has been tactical voting, and not much else. The more viable Green gets the more I will vote for them, but I will not waste my vote.

  6. I love that photo of you.
    Do you remember the day after Thatcher got in for the 2nd time we hitched to France, in some ways probably the best action at such a time. I can remember feeling gutted that she had returned and with a ‘landslide’ and even remember people saying they had voted for her because she was a woman! Her funeral should be paid for by her estate however overblown.

    1. Yes! Sometimes it’s better to be at a remove. I am pretty glad I don’t get newspapers or listen to radio news or watch TV apart from ALL THE NOIR. Facebook has quite enough content for me right now!

  7. I left England in march 1990 because I’d had enough of Thatcher as well as of England and the english. I thought of Maddox-Ford’s painting ‘The last of England’ as I rode the Dover-Calais ferry, and I felt as if I was escaping from ‘Fantasy Island’ where everything was sham, the working-class was a beaten near-corpse bleeding on a rainwashed stone floor, and the ‘Poll Tax’ was about to be instituted in England after its ‘popularity’ had been established in my beloved Scotland and where everything was for sale. I hated every minute of Thatcher’s ‘reign’ and disagreed with just about all of her policies. Elvis Costello wrote ‘When England was the whore of the world, Margaret was her madame’. When she recited St-Francis on the steps of N°10 in 1979 I felt nauseous. I’m supremely happy that the wicked old bitch is dead, I’m just sorry that she took so long about it, and that there are so many people who still like her and think that anything she did was in any way right.

    1. I wish I had had the foresight to do the same. There are always people who can ride whatever waves come their way, but I am not one of them, as evidenced by my total collapse after being pulled under by the ‘undertoad’ of what ‘education’ has become… Obviously if I’d been as careless with myself as I was here in the UK in a country without a welfare state, I could have been a lot worse off than I am now, but I also think I would have been more careful. And if I had moved to a European country I wouldn’t have been treated so badly in the first place.

      As things are I have a front seat for all the horrors of this government, and I can honestly see Hitler-esque policies being meted out. Disdain for the poor and disabled and hatred of foreigners – where to next? I protect myself as well as I can from the sucker punches of print and broadcast news but I can’t help but be rather horribly well informed about things… I have no great love of Scotland, but if push comes to shove and they get independence and I happen to be doing my PhD out of one of their universities I may reconsider my position.

  8. I am younger then you, and across the pond, so to speak, but according to my parents I was always liberal and started reading the newspaper by third grade over breakfast and got into arguments with my teachers for not covering enough news and politics in class. My earliest political memories are of the reagan and thatcher era – which means that up until recently, most of them have been negative (since at least here, the majority of the our political history was ran by political conservative idiots, with a few reasonable people mixed in occasionally).

    I knew enough about Thatcher to know – and especially more so when I reach college and was old enough to look back and fully understand the effects of her policies – to see how much in lockstep with regan she was (economically a friggin mess for most, with foreign policy, great as long as you saw things her way, but a terror otherwise).

    However, I will always have a slight admiration for her in the sense of being a little kid and seeing her in comparison to other woman out there – who were all either known for being pretty, being political wives, or just for being helpmates for others and thinking “ok, she is sort of powerful and scary and fierce and can kick some ass. and thats cool”

    But I do think her policies. *shakes head* as much as i love 80s music? So glad that decade is past us. Now, if our current polticians would stop thinking that is something to aspire to.

  9. You hit the nail on the head. Worrying to think that this heartlessness is seen as admirable. The argumentative style of parliament is problematic in itself, and even the combat of law is unhelpful in serving the needs of the people. The very idea that you could discuss something with someone and listen to them and for them to listen to you is completely alien to those who we entrust with our housekeeping. It is no coincidence, I think, that there has been war all of our own lives and those of our parents and grandparents.

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